5 Things To Include When You’re Writing a Justin Timberlake Song

Well, Justin Timberlake is back, guys.  We all tried to stop it by encouraging him to repeatedly turn up on Saturday Night Live even though he’s not as good as he seems to think he is, just because we figured that hey, he might get the hint that his music is largely terrible and that he should just give up all together, and then we could work on getting him to give up his acting career too and force him into hiding – because let’s face it, that’s where he belongs.

I’m kidding, he’s not terrible, he’s actually not bad at all.  JT returned this year with a new album, The 20/20 Experience.

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Yep, that’s the cover.  We’ve seen Timberlake claim that he was “bringing sexy back” in 2006, and now it seems that the next step is trying to make a trip to the optician seem sexy too.  Sorry Justin, but there’s nothing sexy about getting comfortable in a small room, having someone switch off the lights and then get real close to you, so close you can feel their breath and you… you know what? I’ll let you have that one, Justin.

But back to business.  I’m calling you out, JT – it’s been 7 years since your last album came out and I thought, ‘Hey, maybe yer man might not be so lazy this time’-  BUT NO. The third track into the album, a song entitled ‘Don’t Hold The Wall’ reminded me of some observations I made about many of Timberlake’s songs when I first heard FutureSex/LoveSounds in 2006.  So if you’d like to try your hand at writing a Justin Timberlake song, here are some things you should definitely consider including…

5. Get a black friend to feature on it

The latest offering, ‘Suit and Tie’ is not actually that bad of a song, except for the annoying 40 seconds or so at the start where it’s this warped kind of slowed down intro.  It’s got some old-skool horn blasts, a kind of nursery-rhyme melody in the chorus and a few funky Motown throwback harmonies.  But it’s also got Jay-Z, for some reason.

Lord knows Jay-Z doesn’t need the work/money/exposure that a collaboration with Justin Timberlake would generate, so this collaboration doesn’t benefit Jay-Z in any way – which is why it’s even weirder that he’d let Justin say “Get out ya seat, Hov” just before his verse.  I’d bet money that li’l JT added that bit looooooong after Jay-Z had left the studio.

But it’s true that since the end of N*SYNC and the start of Justin’s career, he’s made a huge effort to collaborate with black artists. I’m in no way saying there’s anything wrong with that; in fact most of the songs he did collaborate on were some of his best, which suggests to me that he needs the credibility of decent R’n’B artists on some of his tracks to help him along, rather than get by on the quality of the songs themselves, which are generally designed to hypnotise you into thinking they’re good because they get stuck in your head – but more on that later on. 23986_393661505119_5991298_n I mean, why else would anyone want to work with that purveyor of dreadful music, Timbaland, on more than one occasion?  He’s like a big, ugly tortoise that was sent to earth by the harshest demons at the centre of the earth to spread evil through his terrible, terrible sounds. There was a time when we couldn’t escape the Timber Bros, Land ‘n’ Lake, causing a ruckus up in the club. Idiots.

Regardless of Timbalands crimes against music, the fact still remains – Justin, you may be a slinky-hipped, highly-styled babe-magnet now, but before you escaped from Boyband World, you were this guy:

You can't bring sexy back if you're the reason it went away in the first place, JT.

You can’t bring sexy back if you’re the reason it went away in the first place, JT.

4. An opportunity to showcase his ‘sweet spot’

Now, simply put, a singer’s sweet spot is the range of notes where their voice produces the the best tone or sound, and is generally their most comfortable position within their own vocal range – the technical term is ‘tessitura’, and if you are a singer with any sense you’ll pick songs where you get to show off your range but spend a great deal of time in this sweet spot.  It’s just so much more pleasant to listen to – Michael Buble’s songs tend to dither around the same range with the odd climactic note to belt out for dramatic effect, and it’s a good formula to use to keep an audience entertained for the duration of a song.  You’ll notice that Buble also tends to cover a lot of classic songs, often from the Great American Songbook – back when songwriting was an art form, rather than something that could be generated within seconds at the click of a few buttons (Thanks, Logic Pro!).
justin-timberlake-20-20-experience-album-title-detailsNow, Justin… here’s a man who is actually capable of an impressive range of tones and techniques with his voice.  I’d never deny that JT can sing, but it’s the fact that he chooses to showcase what I think he seems to consider his sweet spot.  It’s that nasally, whiny voice that he tends to explode into after a lovely airy falsetto run.  If you need an example, listen to the entire chorus of ‘Señorita’ or literally ANYTHING he sang with N*SYNC.  It’s as if he’s heard his lower register, sultry and gentle, and then listened to a playback of his controlled falsetto, reminiscent of Michael Jackson at times (the control, the structure of the runs, don’t deny it), and decided that the bit in the middle must be as good – if not better!!! – than the two outer limits.  He couldn’t be more wrong.

He’s proved he can get through a song without it, though. In ‘Cry Me A River’, the gentle yet persistent way he sings the words “don’t it make you sad about it” the first two times is incredibly understated, and then he slides into this desperate falsetto at the end of the song – really heartfelt, loving it, Justin, you’re sounding great.  But I need you to butch up that middle range, Justin, otherwise one day someone’s going to walk past while you’re singing and suddenly pinch your nose shut – and you’ll stop making any noise.  And then you’ll see the error of your ways, and you’ll come and comment on this post and you’ll say “Thank you, Helen.  Thank you for your constructive criticism.” And I’ll say, “You’re welcome, JT.” And you’ll say “Don’t call me JT.  Ever.”

3. A moment where he gets to shout ‘OH!”

I don’t think he does this in that many songs, but he seems to really go for it when he does.  So, he must like it – include at least 3 of these moments.

2. A moment where he gets to talk for a few seconds.

Remember that really cringey bit in ‘Señorita’ where he start chatting about getting the ladies and fellas to repeat after him? Because that’s what every good R’n’B song needs – audience participation. Cos you know, it’s just like, laid back and improvised, we just be riffing, you feel me?  Shut up, man. Call and response, puh-lease.

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“See dey don’t do dis anymoar” Yeah they do, mate – in pantomimes.

You’ll notice, that when he imitates the women’s voices, he starts out trying to make this obnoxious, high-pitched, nasal voice and then can’t help but sing.  I think he managed to     confuse his own brain and vocal chords in that one moment.  He doesn’t just talk in this song – Justin’s reeeeeal fond of chatting halfway through his songs, as if to make things informal and reminds us that hey – it’s just Justin. *shudders*

1. Come up with a 4 bar chord sequence, repeated ad infinitum.

Now, here’s why I called ol’ JT lazy right at the start of this post, when I mentioned my observations from his previous albums.  These other points I’ve included are sort of superfluous, because here’s really the only element you need to create a song that Justin Timberlake will almost definitely agree to record.

Let’s look at ‘Señorita’, for example. That little 2 bar motif that opens the song repeats, playing for over TWO MINUTES, then relents for a little sultry breakdown for all of twenty seconds, only to return and take us all the way through to the end of the song.

How about ‘Like I Love You’? I stumbled across this one at school, messing around with my guitar while waiting for a rehearsal to start.  Those Spanish sounding chords from the intro, which are so distinctive?  Yeah, those goddamn things go on through the whole song – at about two thirds of the way in, we have another sneaky digression in the form of the middle, which at this tempo takes about 15 seconds, and we’re back to the ol’ riff again.  Those songs have more in common than just heaving music videos which feature JT grinding awkwardly against women of various ethnicities.

Hmm.  Okay, so two singles that do that can’t be so bad, right?  WRONG. Justin’s other singles from his debut album Justified,  ‘Rock Your Body‘ and ‘What Goes Around‘ (which had a dramatic music video featuring a DTSFT have, Scarlett Johansson) both follow a similar pattern, with the latter lacking any digression at all. That’s some lazy shit right there, and while it’s true that Justin isn’t the only person guilty of this, he’s certainly the most prominent one. Because he didn’t just do it on Justified.

Have a sneaky listen to ‘SexyBack’, ‘Summer Love’, or ‘Losing My Way’ from FutureSex/LoveSounds, and then report back here.

RIGHT?  That’s why his songs are so catchy – because they’re damn near hypnotic with those repeated motifs, no wonder they get stuck in your brain. Granted, the accompaniment on ‘Summer Love’ is pretty layered and interesting enough to not get boring, but it does still grate a little.  I really thought things would be different this time, Justin.  I saw you on the advert for your album, telling those horn players what to do, and I thought “He’s changed, he’s paying attention” but you’re NOT.  ‘Don’t Hold The Wall’ has made me not want to listen to the rest of your album, I’m THAT annoyed.

So if you’re looking to get involved with writing songs for Justin Timberlake, heed my words and you’ll go far.

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